House of Commons Hansard #109 of the 41st Parliament, 2nd Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was liability.


Time Allocation MotionPrivilegeRoutine Proceedings

4 p.m.


Peter Julian NDP Burnaby—New Westminster, BC

Mr. Speaker, I would like to welcome you back to Parliament, as well as the government House leader, the member for Saanich—Gulf Islands, and all other members of Parliament.

This is an important issue and I am rising in support of the question of privilege raised by the member for Saanich—Gulf Islands. This is an issue that has been raised before. I want to flag at the outset that O'Brien and Bosc, which is our bible, as we know, describes time allocation as allowing for specific lengths of time to be set aside for the consideration of one or more stages of a public bill. The term “time allocation” suggests primarily the idea of time management, but the government may use a motion to allocate time as a guillotine.

As we know, we have had a reference from the government House leader saying that time allocation is somewhat different from closure. He is right, technically, but as we know, in both cases we are talking about the use of time by the government as a guillotine. That is the point the member for Saanich—Gulf Islands has raised and it is a valid point to be considered as you look at her question of privilege, Mr. Speaker.

It is true that the government has used both time allocation and closure as a guillotine. In this Parliament alone—this is the sad record of the government—it has shut down debate 75 times. That is more than any other government in Canadian history.

Seventy-five times, Mr. Speaker, that is incredible. Clearly, this is an attempt to hamstring the democratic process.

I want to quote somebody who should have a lot of credibility with the government, and that is the Minister of Employment and Social Development and Minister for Multiculturalism. He said in the House, back in 2002, the following:

I am displeased that the bill represents the 75th time that the government has invoked closure or time allocation since it came to power in 1993, abusing that very significant power to limit and shut down debate in this place more than any other government in Canadian history. This is parliament. Parliament is derived from the French word “parler” which means to speak. It is the place where the representatives of the common people speak to issues that affect the common good. For the government to, for the 75th time, prohibit members from speaking on behalf of their constituents and to the national interest on matters of grave concern, such as the budget implementation bill, is yet more unfortunate evidence of the government's growing arrogance and contempt for our conventions of parliamentary democracy.

That was said by the Minister of Employment and Social Development and Minister for Multiculturalism. I believe that intervention from the government side obviously raises the major concerns that the membr for Saanich—Gulf Islands has raised. I should add that when the Minister for Multiculturalism raised the 75th time back in 2002, that was over four mandates and four Parliaments. We are talking about 75 closure and time allocation motions in one single Parliament, an abuse and contempt of democracy that we have simply never before seen in Canadian history.

Many times it is Conservative MPs who have their rights thrown aside by the extraordinary use of time allocation and closure. In fact, on most bills now, as we know, there is only a handful of Conservative members who even get up to speak, which means their constituents in their ridings are deprived of the ability to express themselves on government legislation and there are many Conservative MPs who simply have not been able to speak on a single government bill.

Mr. Speaker, O'Brien and Bosc quote Maingot on the subject of questions of privilege. I know that the member for Saanich—Gulf Islands takes this issue very seriously. Maingot said:

The purpose of raising matters of “privilege” in either House of Parliament is to maintain the respect and credibility due to and required of each House in respect of these privileges, to uphold its powers, and to enforce the enjoyment of the privileges of its Members. A genuine question of privilege is therefore a serious matter not to be reckoned with lightly and accordingly ought to be rare, and thus rarely raised in the House of Commons.

As the House knows, in November 2011, the NDP brought forward a motion that aimed to provide the Speaker with a level of discretion in granting the government leave to introduce closure or time allocation on legislation before the House, preventing the government from abusing it as it certainly has over the last year and certainly has over the course of this Parliament in an unprecedented way. The Conservatives at that time rejected that proposal.

That was not the opinion of the current Prime Minister on November 26, 1996, here in the House of Commons, when he said:

In my view, the procedure of using time allocation for electoral law, doing it quickly and without the consent of the other political parties, is the kind of dangerous application of electoral practices that we are more likely to find in third world countries.

I would also like to point out a report, which was cited by O'Brien and Bosc, prepared by Yvon Pelletier, a parliamentary intern from 1999-2000. The article was based on his research essay, which was awarded the Alf Hales Prize as the best paper submitted by the 1999 and 2000 interns. He spoke of time allocation in the House of Commons:

Accordingly, it became necessary to set up mechanisms to manage the time allocated to debate so that a final decision could be made in a reasonable period of time. However, a balance had to be struck between the right to speak for an appropriate length of time and Parliament's right to reach decisions.

The only notable change to that provision was made in the fall of 1989, when the House of Commons renumbered its standing orders. Time allocation is now covered in Standing Order 78. Since the governing party has shown no desire to change this standing order, which is very much in its favour, the use of time allocation continues to be this government's preferred time management strategy. Unless changes are made to this standing order, time allocation will continue to be the strategy of choice for muzzling the opposition.

That is why we are rising in the House to support the question of privilege raised by the member for Saanich—Gulf Islands.

What we are seeing here is unprecedented: 75 times in a single Parliament. This is an abuse of time allocation and closure. There is no doubt about it. This violates the rights of MPs, both in opposition and in government, to rise in the House to speak and represent their constituents.

That is why we are rising to support this question of privilege.

Time Allocation MotionPrivilegeRoutine Proceedings

4:05 p.m.


The Speaker Conservative Andrew Scheer

I thank hon. members for their contributions and will come back to the House with a decision in due course.

Speaker's RulingEnergy Safety and Security ActGovernment Orders

4:05 p.m.


The Speaker Conservative Andrew Scheer

There is one motion in amendment standing on the notice paper for the report stage of Bill C-22. The sponsor of the motion as well as the two members who had submitted an identical notice have indicated to the Chair that they do not wish to proceed with the motion. Therefore, the House will now proceed without debate to the putting of the question on the motion to concur in the bill at report stage.

Speaker's RulingEnergy Safety and Security ActGovernment Orders

4:10 p.m.

Kenora Ontario


Greg Rickford ConservativeMinister of Natural Resources

moved that the bill be concurred in.

Speaker's RulingEnergy Safety and Security ActGovernment Orders

4:10 p.m.


The Speaker Conservative Andrew Scheer

Is it the pleasure of the House to adopt the motion?

Speaker's RulingEnergy Safety and Security ActGovernment Orders

4:10 p.m.

Some hon. members


Speaker's RulingEnergy Safety and Security ActGovernment Orders

4:10 p.m.

An hon. member

On division.

Speaker's RulingEnergy Safety and Security ActGovernment Orders

4:10 p.m.


The Speaker Conservative Andrew Scheer

Motion agreed to

When shall the bill be read a third time? By leave, now?

Speaker's RulingEnergy Safety and Security ActGovernment Orders

4:10 p.m.

Some hon. members


Speaker's RulingEnergy Safety and Security ActGovernment Orders

4:10 p.m.


Greg Rickford Conservative Kenora, ON

moved that the bill be read a third time and passed.

Mr. Speaker, I want to welcome all members of this place back, and in addition, the new members.

It is with great pleasure that I rise in the House today to discuss how our government has taken action to strengthen energy safety and security in Canada's offshore and nuclear energy industries.

The health and safety of Canadians and of our environment is of the utmost importance to our government.

In the Speech from the Throne we pledged that no resource development would proceed unless safe for Canadians and safe for the environment. In other words, no development would proceed unless rigorous environmental protection and health and safety measures were in place. That is the goal of Bill C-22. The legislation builds on Canada's already strong record of safety and security in the nuclear and offshore industries, and it will ensure that Canada's thriving energy sector will continue to grow.

One of the key features of the energy safety and security legislation is the $1-billion protection it provides to Canadians. The legislation would raise the absolute liability limits in both offshore and nuclear sectors to $1 billion. These changes would ensure that Canada continues to have world-class regulatory regimes. As hon. members know, Canada's liability regime is founded on the polluter pays principle. With Bill C-22, we are enshrining this principle into legislation for the first time. The bottom line is that Canadian taxpayers and the Government of Canada will not have to foot the bill in the unlikely, perhaps rare, event of a spill.

The Canadian offshore oil and gas industry is booming and provides many economic benefits for Canada's Atlantic region, including thousands of jobs and billions of dollars in revenue.

From an economic perspective, activities in the Newfoundland and Labrador offshore accounted for about 28% of the nominal provincial gross domestic product in 2012. In the Nova Scotia offshore, they represented about 3% of the provincial GDP.

Canada collected an impressive $8.4 billion in royalties from the Newfoundland and Labrador offshore and $2 billion from the Nova Scotia offshore and transferred those funds to these respective provincial governments. I am sure they appreciated that. Offshore development is currently one of the fastest growing sectors in Canada. Right now there are five major projects under way in the Atlantic offshore, another project under construction with initial production slated for 2017, a major prospect in the Flemish Pass, and several major exploration projects under way.

Atlantic Canada currently produces about 200,000 barrels of oil a day. That is about 15% of Canada's conventional crude oil production and seven million cubic litres a day of natural gas. Put another way, that is enough to heat about 950,000 Canadian homes for one year.

There are still opportunities for the oil and gas industry. Our country has the resources to help meet international demand for energy, which is expected to increase by one-third by 2035.

Most of that growth in demand is coming from emerging economies in Asia, Africa, and Latin America. Few countries are developing natural resources on the scale and at the pace of Canada. There are hundreds of major natural resource projects under construction or planned for the next 10 years. These are worth approximately $675 billion in investment.

The Government of Canada shares the management of the offshore with the governments of Nova Scotia and Newfoundland and Labrador. Companies operating in Canada's offshore have an excellent track record. Every stage of offshore oil and gas project development, from exploration to production, is managed and regulated by the Canada-Nova Scotia Offshore Petroleum Board or the Canada-Newfoundland and Labrador Offshore Petroleum Board.

These boards ensure that operators exercise due diligence to prevent spills in Canada's offshore. With this in mind, we work closely with these two provinces to update and expand legislation to ensure that Canada's offshore regime remains world class.

Canada's environmental safety record in the Atlantic offshore, for example, is already very strong. In fact, some 73 million barrels of oil are produced in the region each year, without a significant spill since production began in 1997. Our plan for responsible resource development strengthens environmental protection by focusing resources on the review of major projects. We have put forward new measures, new fines, to punish those who would break Canada's rigorous environmental protections. We have also increased the number of inspections and comprehensive audits of federally regulated pipelines.

What is more, we are bringing in tough new measures for oil tankers to ensure the safe transport of energy resources through our waterways. These measures include the introduction of the safeguarding Canada's seas and skies act and the formation of an expert tanker safety regime and proposed ways to strengthen it. Building on these measures with Bill C-22, our government is taking tangible steps to make our robust liability regime and its great record even stronger.

Our proposed changes focus on four key areas: prevention, response, accountability, and transparency. They will help further strengthen safety and security to prevent incidents and ensure a swift response in the rare or unlikely event of a spill. As I mentioned, our liability regime is founded on the polluter pays principle.

First, we are proposing to enshrine this principle in the legislation and to maintain unlimited liability when an operator is found to be at fault. This will clearly establish that polluters will be held accountable.

Second, we will ensure that the liability limits reflect modern standards. Under the current regime, offshore operators in the Atlantic have absolute liability of $30 million. Given the value of this resource and the boom currently under way in offshore exploration and production, most members, I think, can agree that this amount needs to be raised. That is why we are increasing the benchmark to $1 billion with this bill. In this way, Canada's benchmark remains among the highest in the world.

In addition to increasing the absolute liability in the Atlantic from $30 million to $1 billion, our government is also increasing the absolute liability in the Arctic from $40 million to $1 billion. Fault or negligence does not have to be proven for operators to be responsible for that amount of damage or compensation. I think that is important.

Let us move to a discussion, then, of financial capacity.

We must also ensure that companies operating offshore have the financial capacity to meet their obligations.

Before any offshore drilling or production can take place, companies have to prove that they can cover the financial liabilities and damages that may result from a spill. Currently the financial capacity requirements range from $250 million to $500 million, with $30 million to be held in trust for working in the Atlantic offshore and $40 million for working in the Arctic offshore. This deposit is held in trust by the offshore regulator as a letter of credit, guarantee, or bond. These amounts will increase to $1 billion for financial capacity and $100 million to be held in trust per offshore project. These are significant resources that I think go a long way to help build public confidence.

Furthermore, we are taking steps to create greater transparency in the offshore industry. With this in mind, we are making emergency planning, environmental plans, and other documents filed with regulators available to the general public. This will ensure that operators make protecting Canadians and the environment their first priority.

These are just some of the ways we are protecting Canadian taxpayers by ensuring that Canada has one of the strongest offshore liability regimes in the world.

In fact, with the passage of this legislation, Canada's offshore liability will be among the most stringent in the world. We will ensure that only those companies with an interest in operating safely and securely and with the financial wherewithal to address any problems will be able to comply.

I would like to spend some time talking about nuclear liability, the second piece of this act.

Canada's nuclear industry is also a critical component of our energy resource mix. This industry accounts for 30,000 high-quality jobs and helps make Canada's electricity supply among the cleanest in the world.

Electricity from nuclear energy powers our homes, our businesses, our cities and even our cars. In fact, nuclear energy is helping reduce Canada's greenhouse gas emissions by 89 million tonnes a year, which is the equivalent of over 18 million cars.

Our country is recognized the world over as a leader in nuclear energy for a number of important reasons. For one, Canada's nuclear industry boasts an impressive safety record. It has operated safely and securely for over 50 years. In fact, there has never been a single claim under Canada's nuclear liability act.

We have robust technology, a well-trained workforce, and rigorous regulatory requirements. The industry is supported by legislation, such as the Nuclear Safety and Control Act and the Nuclear Fuel Waste Act, and is overseen by the independent expertise of the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission.

What most Canadians probably do not realize is that Canada's nuclear liability regime is already nearly 40 years old, young by anyone's standard in this place, I am sure. However, times and standards have changed when it comes to the nuclear industry. Clearly, this legislation needs to be brought into the modern age.

As a responsible government, we must ensure that our system is up to date and that it can respond to any incidents. That is why we have brought in a bill to modernize Canada's nuclear liability regime.

This new legislation will increase the amount of compensation available to address civil damage from $75 million to $1 billion. We believe that the $1-billion figure strikes the right balance between protecting Canadian taxpayers and holding companies accountable in the event of an accident. The amount is also in line with current international standards.

The proposed legislation maintains the key principle of absolute and exclusive liability for operators of nuclear facilities for injury and damage. This means that the liability of the operator will be unqualified and undivided. There will be no need to prove fault, and no one else will be held liable.

These are big numbers we are talking about. In fact, nuclear insurers have indicated that a $1-billion liability limit would mean an increase in premiums of five to eight times the amount operators are currently paying. If we take, for example, some of the operators in Ontario who have several reactors at their nuclear power plants, they currently pay premiums in the neighbourhood of up to $1.2 million for a $75 million insurance policy. Under this legislation, they would be required to pay annual premiums of up to $10 million for a $1 billion insurance policy.

What about the cost to ratepayers? Based on average monthly electricity consumption by Ontario households of 1,000 kilowatts an hour, the impact of the increased insurance would amount to a very small amount. In fact, it would be roughly less than $2 per year.

As for compensation, Bill C-22 will broaden the definition of compensable damage to include physical injury, economic loss, preventative measures, and environmental damage. It will also extend the limitation period for submitting compensation claims for bodily injury from 10 years to 30 years. This will help address any latent illnesses that may only be detected years later, after an accident. It is another important way our government is protecting the health and safety of Canadians.

Bill C-22 would significantly improve the claims compensation process, increase the financial liability of nuclear operators for damages and provide greater legal certainty for Canada's nuclear industry. Ultimately, these reforms would boost public confidence, Canadians' confidence in the safety and responsibility of the industry as a whole.

Our government is taking these concrete steps to address other important issues for the nuclear sector. This includes responsibly managing legacy waste, restructuring Atomic Energy of Canada Limited and promoting international trade.

Let us talk about international efforts.

As hon. members know, when we talk about nuclear energy, we are talking about a global issue that knows no borders. With Bill C-22, we are implementing the provisions of the International Atomic Energy Agency's Convention on Supplementary Compensation for Nuclear Damage. This convention is an international instrument to address nuclear civil liability in the rare and unlikely event of a nuclear incident.

By adhering to these additional international standards, Canada will bolster its domestic compensation regime by up to $450 million by bringing in significant new funding. This will bring the total potential compensation in Canada up to $1.45 billion.

Joining this convention will reinforce our commitment to building a strong, global, nuclear liability regime.

This underscores how important this Canadian bill is, not only with respect to financial issues, but also in other areas, such as clarifying what constitutes a nuclear incident.

These changes will also help provide greater certainty for Canadian nuclear supply companies that want to market their services in a country that is a member of the convention.

Given that our closest neighbour, the United States, is already a member, our membership will allow the two countries to establish civil liability treaty relations.

Korea and Japan have also signalled their intention to join the convention. Once Canada becomes a member, the convention will be one step closer to becoming a reality.

In conclusion, our government believes that economic prosperity and environmental protection are not mutually exclusive goals. They can and they do go hand in hand. The legislation we are debating today is designed to do just that.

This bill will ensure that Canada's energy resources are developed safely and responsibly and that the environment is protected.

The energy safety and security act would provide a solid framework to regulate the offshore and nuclear liability regimes in Canada and to ensure they would remain world class. It sends a strong signal to the world that Canada is a safe and responsible supplier of energy resources and that Canada, at the same time, is open for business.

That is why I want to urge all hon. members to support this important legislation. I have appreciated the debate in previous sittings, and I look forward to responding to questions from my colleagues at this time.

Speaker's RulingEnergy Safety and Security ActGovernment Orders

4:25 p.m.


Chris Charlton NDP Hamilton Mountain, ON

Mr. Speaker, as you can imagine, as the NDP critic for natural resources, I have a ton of questions for the minister that I would love to ask, but I do not want to offer him a big buffet today so he can pick and choose which ones he answers. I will focus in on something really specific.

Access to information documents acquired by Greenpeace indicate that the Department of Natural Resources commissioned a study on the impacts of the economic effects of a nuclear accident in 2013 to support revisions to the nuclear liability and compensation act.

According to those documents, Ontario Power Generation and the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission limited the scope of another study on the health effects of a nuclear accident so they would not undermine the study by the ministry.

The CNSC study was released to the public and the Standing Committee on Natural Resources, but study on the economic consequences of a nuclear accident was not.

To me, it is completely unacceptable that both parliamentarians and the public would be kept in the dark with respect to that study as we are debating Bill C-22.

I am respectfully requesting the minister today to agree to table those documents in the House of Commons so we can all have the benefit of knowing what that study said before we give third and final reading to the bill.

Speaker's RulingEnergy Safety and Security ActGovernment Orders

4:30 p.m.


Greg Rickford Conservative Kenora, ON

Mr. Speaker, I appreciate the hon. member's question and her participation in this debate.

At every turn throughout this debate, we have had an opportunity to look at legislation tabled here today, and in previous debates, that talks about a world-class liability regime. In getting to that point, we have had every opportunity to hear from experts.

There is plenty of information out there for us to rely on in order to advance the debate on this important and timely subject matter.

Speaker's RulingEnergy Safety and Security ActGovernment Orders

4:30 p.m.


Geoff Regan Liberal Halifax West, NS

Mr. Speaker, during the committee reports at the committee stage, where the committee reviewed this bill, the scope of the committee's work was strictly restrained. It was very narrow, as decided by the government majority in that committee, of course.

One sometimes senses the invisible hand of the minister in the committee and the decisions that are made. However, one of the things that we ought to have been studying was the impact of this bill in the north and what the limits ought to be for liability, particularly in relation to oil and gas exploration in the north.

The Prime Minister likes to go to the north and go around on snowmobiles and so forth, and we see him on the front of ships, but he does not seem to show much interest in the environment. We never hear him mention climate change when he is in the north, for example. That is a concern.

In committee we ought to be able to look at questions like what our response capacity is and what we could do about incident prevention in the north. When the committee last talked about these issues a few years ago, at the time of the BP Deepwater Horizon blowout in the Gulf of Mexico, the experts that came before it said that the ability to deal with spills in the north, under the ice in the Arctic, was not there.

However, we know the minister has given approval for at least two wells. I think that there are three exploration licences that have been given in the Beaufort Sea, two of which are in deep water.

What is going to happen here?

Speaker's RulingEnergy Safety and Security ActGovernment Orders

4:30 p.m.


Greg Rickford Conservative Kenora, ON

Mr. Speaker, I appreciate the hon. member's curiosity on this issue.

Canada's current absolute liability limits have not been updated since the 1980s. Indeed, we are taking a significant leap forward from the $30 million to $40 million range in the Atlantic and Arctic to $1 billion. This will place Canada's liability regime squarely among those of its peer countries.

In case of fault or negligence liability remains unlimited.

Speaker's RulingEnergy Safety and Security ActGovernment Orders

4:30 p.m.


Joan Crockatt Conservative Calgary Centre, AB

Mr. Speaker, this is a bill that should be very interesting to all Canadians. All of us care about our environment. We want to ensure that our environment is protected. In fact, no government in Canadian history has been more proactive on the environment than this government.

I think what Canadians want to know is, in broad terms, how would Bill C-22 actually toughen the environmental standards? We are not content to sit where we have been. We are continually increasing the environmental standards.

I would like the minister to address how this bill would toughen our environmental standards, continue to hold our energy companies accountable and ensure that the environment is protected for Canadians while our development proceeds.

Speaker's RulingEnergy Safety and Security ActGovernment Orders

4:30 p.m.


Greg Rickford Conservative Kenora, ON

Mr. Speaker, I appreciate the member's contributions and her hard work on the standing committee with her two hands, and not my invisible one.

I appreciate the fact that energy is a key issue for her constituents. What I can assure her is that our regime and what is proposed in this bill, in both offshore and nuclear liability, compares well with the international community in terms of competent, independent regulators and their ability to enforce the kinds of standards about which she is concerned. We recognize that there are other countries that have provided benchmark standards. Norway and Australia are world leaders in offshore regimes, based on their respective regimes of extensive regulation and predictable process.

We have looked to those regimes. We have considered the important and rigorous role that the independent boards perform at arm's-length in the interest of putting the safety of our Canadian communities in these areas, and Canada as a whole, at the forefront in developing these kinds of regimes, whether they are nuclear, offshore, pipelines, tanker safety and the like.

Speaker's RulingEnergy Safety and Security ActGovernment Orders

4:35 p.m.


Anne-Marie Day NDP Charlesbourg—Haute-Saint-Charles, QC

Mr. Speaker, the NDP also believes that polluters must pay. This reduces the liability of taxpayers, who should not have to pay for something that they did not do.

Could the minister explain to Canadians why the bill does not apply to the nuclear industry? I am referring to the 33rd meeting of the Standing Committee on Natural Resources on June 3, 2014.

Furthermore, why does a company like General Electric, a reactor supplier, not have any obligation in the case of an incident? This question is in reference to the 34th meeting of the Standing Committee on Natural Resources on June 5, 2014.

Speaker's RulingEnergy Safety and Security ActGovernment Orders

4:35 p.m.


Greg Rickford Conservative Kenora, ON

Mr. Speaker, while some countries have an unlimited liability limit, which would be Finland, Germany, Switzerland and Japan, in practice the capacity for operators to compensate for damages is limited.

For example, in the aftermath of the Fukushima nuclear accident, the Japanese government stepped in to bail out its operator. This meant it was effectively putting the utility under government ownership in order to allow it to continue to supply electricity to its customers.

Speaker's RulingEnergy Safety and Security ActGovernment Orders

4:35 p.m.


Ryan Cleary NDP St. John's South—Mount Pearl, NL

Mr. Speaker, the hon. member pointed out the fact that the absolute liability for an offshore spill had increased from $30 million to $1 billion. That is a significant increase of $970 million, and that is a good thing. However, in the United States, for example, the cap on the absolute liability for a spill is at $12.6 billion U.S. Ours is going to be set at $1 billion Canadian and in the United States it is $12.6 billion U.S.

In 2010, the total cost for the British Petroleum spill in the Gulf of Mexico with the Deepwater Horizon is $42 billion U.S. and rising. That includes the total cleanup, the criminal penalties and civil claims.

The increase from $30 million to $1 billion is a significant increase, but is it enough?

Speaker's RulingEnergy Safety and Security ActGovernment Orders

4:35 p.m.


Greg Rickford Conservative Kenora, ON

Mr. Speaker, I hope the member is signalling support for this industry as a whole. I had a chance to be in Newfoundland not too long ago where the palpable enthusiasm in economic activity in Newfoundland was very clear to me. The important role that we play in working with Newfoundland and Labrador on offshore activities, particularly in regard to this act, is significant in terms of striking that right balance between a liability regime that works for continued economic activity.

Canada's current absolute liability limits, as I said earlier, have not been updated since the 1980s. This bill seeks to ensure that Canada's offshore regime for oil and gas remains world class. The $1 billion absolute liability would place Canada's regime squarely among those of its peer countries. As I have said before in answers to previous questions, in the case of fault or negligence liability remains unlimited.

Speaker's RulingEnergy Safety and Security ActGovernment Orders

4:35 p.m.


Chris Charlton NDP Hamilton Mountain, ON

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise in the House today to participate in the debate on Bill C-22, an act respecting Canada's offshore oil and gas operations, enacting the nuclear liability and compensation act, repealing the Nuclear Liability Act and making consequential amendments to other acts.

I suppose I should begin by giving a brief synopsis of what the legislation is about, since it has now been some months since the bill was last before the House.

With respect to nuclear liability, Bill C-22 would update Canada's nuclear liability regime to specify the conditions and the procedure for compensation of victims following an incident at a nuclear power plant. It would maintain the principles of absolute limited and exclusive nuclear liability for operators except in situations of war or terrorist attacks. It would increase the absolute liability limit from $75 million to $1 billion. These nuclear liability changes would apply to Canadian nuclear facilities, such as nuclear power plants, research reactors, fuel processing plants, and facilities for managing used nuclear fuel. Moreover, the bill would extend the limitation period for submitting compensation claims for bodily injury from 10 years to 30 years to address latent illnesses, while maintaining the 10-year period for all other forms of damage.

With respect to offshore oil and gas liability, Bill C-22 purports to update Canada's offshore liability regime for oil and gas exploration and operations to prevent incidents and to ensure a swift response in the event of a spill. It would maintain unlimited operator liability for fault or negligence and would increase the absolute liability limit from $40 million in the Arctic and $30 million in the Atlantic to $1 billion for offshore oil and gas projects in both Arctic and Atlantic waters. Significantly, the bill explicitly references the polluter pays principle to establish clearly and formally that polluters will be held accountable.

As members may recall, my NDP colleagues and I supported this bill at second reading in order to get it to committee so that it could be studied thoroughly and so we could present amendments to fix its many flaws. As we indicated at the time, our support was premised on the promise made by the former Minister of Natural Resources that there would be plenty of time for public consultations. I guess we should have known better.

After the cabinet shuffle in the spring, the new Minister of Natural Resources simply ignored his colleague's commitment. Instead of comprehensive public hearings and detailed scrutiny of the bill, the natural resources committee was allotted only three meetings, for a total of six hours, to study this important piece of legislation. Two of those meetings were set aside to hear from witnesses and one meeting was for clause-by-clause consideration. To add insult to injury, one meeting designated for witness testimony was cut short because members had to go to the House for votes, and that lost time was never compensated for at a later date.

With apologies to Thomas Hobbes, this committee process was “nasty, brutish and short”. The whole process was a sham, entirely in keeping with the government's utter disdain for public consultation. The government's desire to get this legislation passed without any meaningful input was, of course, not lost on Canadians.

As one witness said before the committee, her family lives just shy of four kilometres from the Pickering nuclear power plant. Her neighbours know nothing about Bill C-22 going through Parliament, and the witness did not have time to tell people that Pickering residents' personal assets were currently being discussed in the hallowed halls of Ottawa. They have one newspaper that goes out Wednesday and Thursday. They could not even get real-time news during the ice storm through the mainstream media, let alone news about a bill rushed through Parliament.

Not surprisingly, this impassioned plea for more time to study Bill C-22 and its impact on Canadians and their communities did nothing to change the government's approach to dealing with this important file.

Just as Canadians got the brush-off, so did members of Parliament. New Democrats put forward serious amendments, buttressed by expert testimony, that would have significantly improved the government's bill. The amendments were reasonable and simply aimed to strengthen the bill by bringing fairness and balance to its approach. However, not a single one of our amendments was adopted, and as a result, the government missed out on enacting a truly cutting-edge piece of liability legislation for Canada's energy sector.

It is unfortunate that I have only 20 minutes in the House today to reflect on some of the powerful witness testimony that we heard in committee. Twenty minutes is wholly inadequate to explain the importance of some of the amendments New Democrats moved and to explain the deleterious consequences of the government's inaction with respect to their adoption. At a minimum, I owe it to those who lent us their expertise to give a high-level overview of the bill's serious flaws.

In a nutshell, here is what New Democrats attempted to accomplish with our amendments. First, we tried to establish the polluter pays principle, including the removal of a liability cap. Second, we wanted to see the sustainability principle adopted in this legislation by including non-use value damages.

Third, we attempted to increase the incentive for safety by making suppliers and contractors liable, not just operators.

Fourth, we moved an amendment that would increase the timeframe for submitting claims regarding bodily injury, latent illnesses, and death.

Finally, we tried to get concrete commitments for inclusive public consultations on a go-forward basis.

We moved 13 amendments in these five broad categories, but not a single one was passed. Let us look at them in a little more detail so that folks who may be watching the debate here today can truly understand the potentially dire consequences of the Conservatives' intransigent attitude on this file.

Let us look at what the bill entails. The single biggest flaw in this bill is that it continues to subsidize the industry by making taxpayers assume any financial risk in excess of $1 billion. It does this by failing to uphold the critical principle of polluter pays. In Bill C-22, absolute liability is capped at $1 billion, putting public funds and taxpayers on the hook for accidents that exceed this limit.

Witnesses repeatedly told the natural resources committee that the $1 billion cap is as arbitrary as it is inadequate. Here is just a sampling of the testimony we heard.

In a submission from the Canadian Environment Law Association, Theresa A. McClenaghan wrote:

...the amount of $1 billion is far too low to provide assurance of the ability to adequately compensate victims of a severe accident in both the offshore oil and gas as well as the nuclear energy sectors. In the offshore oil and gas case we saw the experience with the Deepwater Horizon spill where President Obama established a $20 billion fund which is not even inclusive of the environmental damages or state clean up costs. The potential consequences of a Fukushima large accident from the nuclear plants in Ontario could far exceed the amount of 1 billion dollars; this number would have to be assessed in light in property values in the GTA as well as the experiences at Chernobyl and Fukushima. The concerns about the reality of potential accidents are not academic concerns; an article written by Dr. Kristin Shrader-Frechette of the University of Notre Dame just after the Fukushima accident listed 26 unintentional nuclear core-melt accidents that have occurred worldwide since the 1950s; the most notorious of course including Chernobyl in 1986 and the three at Fukushima in 2011 . For Fukushima, the Physicians for Social Responsibility have cited figures ranging between $250 billion and $500 billion in consequences from the events there. The scale of these types of accidents far exceeds the billion dollar amount that Bill C-22 establishes for the absolute liability limit in both the oil and gas and the nuclear sectors.

Professor William Amos from Ecojustice echoed those concerns. He said:

I sense the $1 billion number is literally picked out of thin air. Conversations we had with the government were not dissimilar to the question of what's the right number. We said there is no right number; it should be unlimited liability. It seems to me that at a certain point there has to be a recognition on the part of the government that, if there is going to be a functioning free market, then entities that want to engage in risky activities, for example Arctic offshore drilling, they should be able to pay the full freight. I think it is unlikely that we could expect the crown to recover all of the damages caused, including non-use damages, if there were a worst-case scenario off any of Canada's coasts.

He went on to say:

The goal of any extracontractual liability regime is to make sure that an operator's actions in terms of prevention are at the highest possible level and to make sure that the company itself, not the Crown or the taxpayers, assumes the clear risks. Certainly, when a regime is based on the polluter pays principle, and when the provisions of the legislation require the company to pay a greater part of the damages in the case of a catastrophic spill, the company will take steps in advance to modify its behaviour. In this case, modifying the behaviour of those with a financial stake is most important.

Finally, I want to quote from the testimony of Dr. Gordon Edwards from the Canadian Coalition for Nuclear Responsibility:

We urge you, as elected representatives of the Canadian population, not to approve this Act for third reading without insisting on due diligence. First of all, why is there a need for such a limitation of liability? Shouldn't every enterprise be required to accept full responsibility for potential offsite damages? If the government has to ultimately step in to deal with a messy situation, such as that at Lac Mégantic, so be it—but why should the owner or operator have his responsibilities lifted from his shoulders ahead of time? Secondly, where did the figure of one billion dollars come from? This is even less than the cost of a reactor refurbishment. It is far less than the cost of onsite damages in the event of a severe nuclear accident, for which the owner/operator is fully liable and adequately insured.... Costs are mounting. Overnight, the estimated cost of the radioactive cleanup of Port Hope went from $800 million to $1.8 billion. Overnight, the $7 billion cleanup of Chalk River went up by another billion dollars.

New Democrats on the committee took that expert testimony to heart and introduced amendments to abolish the $1-billion liability cap. We agree that Canadian taxpayers should not be on the hook for cleanup and compensation costs beyond the $1 billion. The Canadian taxpayer is not the polluter and therefore should not be held liable for damages caused by the industry. Only if we legislate the polluter pays principle will Canadians get the protection they deserve.

Keeping on the theme of liability, let me quickly raise a couple of other issues we sought to address through our amendments at committee. First, as if it was not bad enough that the Conservatives refuse to lift the liability cap altogether, they added insult to injury by giving additional discretion to the minister to reduce absolute liability even below the already inadequate $1-billion threshold. In the absence of any credible rationale for providing relief from liability, we moved to have those provisions scrapped from the bill. We simply cannot trust the Conservative government to protect the public interest when it has a track record of abusing arbitrary powers. Not surprisingly, our amendments were handily voted down by government members on the committee.

Our efforts to create a more even distribution of liability met a similar fate. In its current iteration, Bill C-22 completely excludes suppliers from any liability. On the nuclear side, they are not held accountable beyond negligence, thereby limiting the possibility of a more even distribution of liability. Not incorporating the supply chain as part of the liability process places the entirety of the blame on the operator. This allows smaller suppliers to act in a hazardous way, increasing the likelihood of a nuclear accident, as companies down the supply chain may act with financial impunity for their actions.

Instead of leaving taxpayers on the hook for cleanup costs that a company could not pay, New Democrats at the committee submitted amendments that would include suppliers and contractors in the liability process. This would increase the incentive for implementing best practices throughout the entire supply chain and would therefore help to ensure the safety of Canadians.

A number of witnesses supported our belief that we needed to fix the imbalance in the existing legislation. Theresa McClenaghan, from the Canadian Environmental Law Association, addressed supplier and contractor liability this way. She said:

Both aspects of the bill channel supplier and contractor liability to the operator or the licence holder for that absolute liability portion, but only on the oil and gas side is liability ever possible against suppliers and contractors and their negligence. On the nuclear side, that's never possible. The nuclear suppliers to that entire supply chain never have to consider the consequences of the decisions they are making around risk, and on the nuclear side as well as the oil and gas side, decisions are made every day around risk.

In its brief, CELA said:

...we would recommend amending Bill C-22 to bring suppliers and contractors into the liability framework in the nuclear sector, just as it does in the offshore oil and gas sector, and to remove the cap on liability so that the nuclear operators as well as others in the supply chain are liable for consequences of their negligence beyond their $1 billion insurance.

I could not agree more. We should not be allowing suppliers and contractors to engage in the nuclear sector with full immunity from any and all liability risks. Nuclear operators should be facing the full consequences of any negligence on their part, just like they do in the oil and gas sector.

Shawn-Patrick Stensil, a nuclear analyst from Greenpeace, agreed. He said:

At this time, in terms of liability, a reactor supplier has no obligation if an accident occurs. That is how the law is worded and that is also true of the new version. In our opinion, this is not a good thing. In the case of Fukushima, it was demonstrated that the designer, General Electric, was aware of the reactor's problems not only in design but also in manufacturing. That was not what caused the accident, but it did contribute to the radiation leaks into the environment. In any other industry, the Japanese could have sued the company. We therefore recommend that there be a right of recourse in that respect. The operator is always the entity that can be sued. However, a negligent supplier could be sued by the operator as he is in the best position to do so and thus obtain the largest amount of compensation for the affected population. That is what we are requesting.

Sadly, even this most reasonable amendment was rejected by the Conservatives at committee.

The same is true for another eminently reasonable amendment dealing with the health of Canadians. We moved an amendment that sought to increase the time frame for submitting claims regarding bodily injury, latent illnesses, and death. The current prescription for claiming damages due to injury and latent illness is 10 years. Bill C-22 would increase this to 30 years, but there is no medical evidence to suggest that health issues manifest and are then able to be identified within 30 years. On the contrary, from what we know about the mutagenic effects of radiation release and exposure, the government should have used this opportunity to include an additional generation to the time frame for submitting claims.

In an effort to strengthen this part of the bill, New Democrats moved an amendment that would have simply extended the time limit from 30 years to 50 years. However, even something as straightforward as that was met with Conservative opposition. Protecting the public interest was clearly not at the forefront of the government's objectives when drafting the bill.

It comes as no surprise, therefore, that the Conservative members on our committee would also vote down our amendment seeking to create meaningful and inclusive public consultation on this file. New Democrats moved an amendment that would require the review of the Nuclear Liability and Compensation Act to be made public, and that it be done in consultation with non-industry stakeholders and those not affiliated with the nuclear industry. Such an approach is crucial to transparency and accountability. As Dr. Edwards asked rhetorically at committee, “should there not be an opportunity for adequate public input and debate on the substantive pan-Canadian issues of equity that are involved? Shouldn’t citizens from provinces without nuclear power reactors be given the opportunity to comment on a bill that would potentially bind their children and grandchildren?”

The answer of course is yes; they absolutely should. However, that was not the answer we got from the Conservatives when we moved our amendment at committee. Those efforts too were voted down.

I know my time is almost up, but I do want to say just a few more things about the offshore oil and gas side of the bill. One of the cornerstones of the NDP's energy policy is sustainable development. It ought to be a guiding principle in all sectors of Canada's energy economy. However, as it is currently written, sustainability gets short shrift in Bill C-22. It de facto ignores those vital aspects of our world that cannot and have not been assigned a monetary value. The bill fails to provide any regulation-making provisions for the calculation of non-use environmental damages.

Here is what Professor Amos told our committee. He said:

...the Supreme Court of Canada recognized the availability at common law of natural resource damages, or damages which compensate for harm to non-use value...of the natural environment.... However, natural resource damages claims at common law are currently subject to uncertainties. ...the process for assessing natural resource damages is ill-defined, reflecting a lack of baseline ecological information and the inherent difficulty in assigning monetary values to environmental values.

It is commendable that Bill C-22 includes the legislated imposition of liability for natural resource damages, including the explicit adoption of damages for non-use values. However, no regulation-making powers are included in Bill C-22 for the calculation of non-use damages. This is a serious gap, as significant regulations are needed to address the lack of baseline ecological information and the inherent difficulty in assigning monetary values to environmental values.

To close that gap, we moved an amendment to both quantify and account for the loss of non-use damages. We wanted to use the regulatory window to include the environment in assessing the scope and the cost of harm to the environment. Sadly, those provisions were never adopted, leaving the whole section on non-use damages deeply flawed.

None of our amendments were intended to tease the proverbial bears. We acknowledged that starting the debate on enhanced liability was a step in the right direction. However, failing to improve the bill represents a colossal wasted opportunity. We did not propose things that were radical or over the top. In fact, most of our amendments simply sought to bring greater fairness and balance to the legislation. Even our proposal to remove the liability cap altogether is not as radical as the government would like Canadians to believe. In fact, Germany, Japan, Sweden, Finland, Denmark, Austria, and Switzerland all have unlimited liability for nuclear power plants already. Even in the U.S., the absolute liability limit is $12.6 billion.

Do not let the Conservative response to that fool you, Mr. Speaker. Predictably, the Conservatives will try to suggest that an unlimited cap would encourage operators to claim bankruptcy instead of cleaning up after an accident.

However, that is looking at the problem upside down. New Democrats believe that liability has to be strong enough to ensure that a nuclear or offshore disaster never happens in the first place, and that operators will have to put the best safety measures into practice. That is how to protect the interests of Canadians, and frankly, they deserve nothing less.

Speaker's RulingEnergy Safety and Security ActGovernment Orders

4:55 p.m.


Kevin Lamoureux Liberal Winnipeg North, MB

Mr. Speaker, the member talked about the very important issue of liability. There is no doubt that Canadians as a whole want to see more accountability for corporations in terms of developing our resources.

The question I have for the member is specific to the offshore oil and gas industry.

One cannot help but think of the economic benefits that Newfoundland and Labrador have experienced through a lot of offshore development. However, it would seem that the NDP position, or at least what the member seems to be implying, is that with any sort of offshore gas exploration whatsoever, any interested private sector company would have to provide, up front, the potential liability insurance for any potential disaster that may occur.

Could the member provide some clarification? What goes through my mind is the impact that would have had on today's oil and gas industry in Newfoundland.

Speaker's RulingEnergy Safety and Security ActGovernment Orders

September 15th, 2014 / 5 p.m.


Chris Charlton NDP Hamilton Mountain, ON

Mr. Speaker, I welcome the question from my colleague specifically about the oil and gas offshore industry.

The member referenced Newfoundland, but it would be equally valid on the west coast. I appreciate what he is saying about unlimited liability seeming perhaps too high a threshold, which I suppose is what he is suggesting.

I would remind the member that the offshore BP gulf oil spill of 2010 is expected to cost as much as $42 billion for total cleanup. What the current government is proposing is that the company be on the hook for only $1 billion. If this happened in Canada, that would leave Canadian taxpayers on the hook for $41 billion.

To suggest that companies who engage in these activities ought to be liable in a polluters-pay-principle kind of way for their operations off our shores is not an unreasonable position. In fact, I dare say even members of the government, well not elected members from the government, but certainly bureaucrats who work for the government would agree.

I will read what Mr. Jeff Labonté, Director General, Energy Safety and Security Branch, Energy Sector, Department of Natural Resources, said when he was before the committee:

...I think providing for higher levels of liability provides a better level of protection. The higher the level of liability, the more likely that industry and actors within the community will take broader measures to be more preventative to help ingrain the safety culture that's expected of the operations.

Surely Canadians deserve to have the safety culture ingrained in their operations.

Speaker's RulingEnergy Safety and Security ActGovernment Orders

5 p.m.


Raymond Côté NDP Beauport—Limoilou, QC

Mr. Speaker, I would like to thank my colleague from Hamilton Mountain for her very enlightening speech.

I have already had the honour of speaking to this bill in the House. What came out of the committee's work shakes me to the core and really scares me. I would like to quote Gordon Edwards, who had this to say about the problem of liability: “The exposure of the Canadian taxpayer is unavoidable under this legislation and it's unlimited. ...It is financial planning with no planning whatsoever.”

In other words, as with the Lac-Mégantic tragedy, the people responsible for those accidents will sneak away and the burden will fall on the taxpayers, the government, the provinces and the municipalities that may be victims of an accident.

Witnesses testified at only two meetings. I would like my colleague to tell me how those far-too-short meetings went and what the tone of the government representatives was.